With the increase in vaccine uptake and the number of available vaccinations, there is a glimmer of hope as we look toward the future. However, new research shows that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay and will have significant impact on our adjustment to post-pandemic life. Though the pandemic unquestionably impacted all lives, the lives of people with disabilities were disproportionately impacted.
To better understand and measure the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the disability community, Easterseals (a non-profit provider of solution-based services and advocacy for people with disabilities) commissioned Accenture (a global professional services company) to administer a national survey of 1,000 individuals with disabilities. As one-in-four Americans lives with a disability, it is imperative that organizations work to understand the needs, realities, and struggles of people with disabilities as we shift into post-pandemic life.
Now, an important question is asked: What were the effects of COVID-19 on the disability community, and how can they be helped?
Primary impacted areas were: healthcare, employment, education, and digital accessibility.
In pre-pandemic life, the most comprehensive form of healthcare consisted of in-person appointments, especially for people with disabilities. In-person appointments allow for clear communication and pose a better opportunity for healthcare workers to understand and treat their patients. This study found that 42% of respondents with disabilities did not use telehealth or virtual care services during the pandemic, and 46% of respondents did not have access to healthcare services during the pandemic. Additionally, 69% of people with disabilities who did use virtual healthcare programs, want to return to in-person appointments.
Additionally, the effects of social isolation were as rampant as any other consequence of COVID-19 within the disability community. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents reported feeling isolated, and 31% reported feeling very isolated, which led to mental health challenges at a level that is five times that of people without disabilities during the pandemic.
Additionally, 80% of medical students do not receive clinical training where they interact with or treat people with disabilities. Fifty-six percent of medical respondents reported that they are not competent to treat patients with disabilities, which leads to people with disabilities being misunderstood by healthcare workers and not receiving the quality of care necessary. People with disabilities are also three times as likely to be denied healthcare, and four times as likely to be treated poorly while receiving medical care than people without disabilities. A systemic lack of direct service providers, exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, has led to significant decreases in access to, and quality of, healthcare for those with disabilities.
Easterseals proposes a solution that is humancentric and begins in the classroom. They encourage advocacy for public policies which allow people with disabilities to have access to quality, comprehensive care. They also suggest that medical schools instill a curriculum for healthcare professionals to be trained in serving and caring for those with disabilities, as well as training and certification programs. Ultimately, they suggest the bolstered support for the social, mental, and physical health of people with disabilities.
Job insecurity and unemployment rates skyrocketed for many during the pandemic, as it also did for people with disabilities. A report from The Society for Human Resource Management found that 1-in-5 people with disabilities were dismissed from employment, and more than 1 million people with disabilities lost their jobs within the first six months of the pandemic.
Easterseals’ proposed solution is centered around helping those with disabilities who seek employment. The goal is to help individuals build skills to ensure they can adapt to their ever-changing careers, changes in society, and the job market. Additionally, they want to ensure that employers realize the benefits of retaining and hiring those with disabilities.
The study found that 93% of children with significant disabilities have missed educational and developmental milestones due to the pandemic, compared to 54% of non-disabled children. The study cites the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which states the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial when discussing developmental and educational success. Additionally, missed milestones, trauma, or missed diagnoses during the first five years of life will have long-term negative consequences throughout all stages of life.
Easterseals proposes a solution which includes public education on the importance of identifying developmental delays. Additionally, they propose advocacy at all levels to mitigate educational gaps and ensure that all students receive proper education in school.
The Digital Divide
This study found that people with disabilities are less likely to use the Internet, have broadband internet, or own a computer. This difference in technological access and comfort drives a wedge between people with disabilities, those without, and society, in terms of technological advancements in society.
Recognizing that digital literacy is crucial to living, working, and learning, especially as we transition into the post-pandemic world, Easterseals proposes a strengthening of technological access and skills training for people with disabilities to ensure that they can fully thrive in an increasingly digital world.
Alicia Messina is a senior public relations major at Quinnipiac University and a Communications Assistant at The Institute for Public Relations. Follow her on LinkedIn.